After nearly two years spent in limbo, a coffee-table book that aims to help fight breast cancer is in the works again. But some say they'll believe it when they see it.
Jack C. Smith Jr. is a pitcher. He's full of ideas and the belief that some day soon, one of them will make him rich. Despite 20 years spent promoting ideas that have won and lost him partners and profits, there's one project he says he can't shake. Oddly enough, it's for charity. But try telling that to the nonprofit agency that still hasn't seen any results from Smith's barest idea yet. Nearly two years ago Style Weekly reported that Smith, then owner of the Richmond-based advertising firm The Smith Agency, pledged to put together "Richmond Revealed," a coffee-table book fashioned after art-photography books such as "Naked New York" and "Naked Los Angeles." Smith's proposed book would show 100 Richmonders pictured, on opposing pages, in their work clothes and nude. At the time, Smith claimed that 100 percent of profits from the project would go to the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation. But in the months that followed not much happened. The Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation and Smith's photographer for the project, Shawn Green, have grown frustrated with what they hoped would bring awareness and money to breast cancer treatment and research. Instead, they fear the book might have little promise of completion. "It seemed very sincere," said Theresa Dayrit, executive director for the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation, about Smith's idea for the art-photography book. "He wanted to push it to a back burner about a year ago," she said in July, adding that she understood Smith's paying projects took priority. But Dayrit became especially concerned when one breast-cancer survivor who had had a mastectomy requested to be photographed for the book with her newborn. The photo itself is artful it shows the reality of the disease cradled in hope for a new life. But Dayrit worried that if the book never was printed the mother would feel she had made a mistake. And when more months passed with no word from Smith, Dayrit said she believed the project had been abandoned. On the contrary, says Smith today, eyes appearing to glint behind tinted sunglasses. Sitting at a Carytown coffee shop, his voice rolls out quickly and eagerly as if to outpace the lips that suck on a Salem cigarette. Each well-placed word and breath gets the same smoky accent - then a smile. Not a day under 50, Smith says he's been around; knows everybody. He's hoping his connections will bring him new business pursuing "new platforms for advertising," he says. As the vice president of marketing for Inter Active Marketing Technologies, Smith currently is pitching a kind of trivia game he says will save Web advertisers big bucks, increase visits to their sites and help their favorite nonprofit. Smith grins at the thought of fortune if fate goes his way. Always, the unconventional allures Smith. Even "Richmond Revealed" grew from a brainstorming session Smith says he had with coworkers at The Smith Agency. "Frankly, we wanted to see if it was a little over-the-top or not," he says. After the article in Style, Smith says more than 30 people responded offering to model for the book. "It kind of snowballed before I was ready," he explains. The positive response prompted Smith to proceed, scouting out Richmond photographer Green, hiring the law firm LeClair Ryan to handle legalities and partnering with the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation. Smith says the foundation was a natural fit. "Breast cancer is a shocking subject, so maybe you need a shocking vehicle to wake people up to it. The fact that [the book] is a little risqué means it will raise awareness a lot more than a black-tie gala at the country club." Then unexpectedly, Smith says, plans for "Richmond Revealed" were suspended. In February, a year after announcing the book project, another one of Smith's ideas got the best of him. But this was business. The Smith Agency merged with a Virginia Beach company to become the Vaughan, Williams, Smith Agency. And if it had made $40 million in just four years, as it claimed was possible from one contract with a South Korean technology company, its partners would have been set for life. It's easy to see how gratis work for a nonprofit could be forgotten. But only months after a glowing business profile appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Vaughan, Williams, Smith quickly and quietly closed shop. Neither Smith nor his former partners will comment on the disbanded ad agency other than to say they couldn't agree on how to operate and manage it. But Smith did comment in July on the status of the delayed coffee-table book, saying it would be in local bookstores by Christmas. This was news to Green, the photographer. For months, Green said, Smith had been incommunicado. Green had worked with Smith on previous projects that he says were handled promptly and professionally. "I don't know why it hasn't gone farther," he told Style in July. Green said he's spent more than 100 hours on the project photographing at least 25 women and some men for the book. But Smith holds the consent releases that are necessary to get the book published. "It could really be an eye-opener," said Green, who is invested in the book's completion because his mother-in-law has had a mastectomy. "Something needs to be done here," said Green. "This is pretty serious." Nearly four months have passed, and Smith now says he's ready again to proceed with "Richmond Revealed." "My resources were tied up with business plans and other stuff," he says, "but it was never taken off the table." By Smith's accounts, he's spent more than $10,000 on the project and says he hopes only to recuperate the costs. The Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation still is earmarked for a large portion of the proceeds, he says. Last week, acknowledges Smith, he called Green for the first time in months to discuss the book. Despite the delay and his previous frustration, Green says he's not reluctant to work with Smith. "As long as you do things with pride and passion, you're on the right track," Green says. Today, Dayrit at the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation is cautiously optimistic about any future with Smith. Just last week she hadn't heard from him. "I'm thinking at this point the project's not taking place," she said. "It's too bad. This had all been done in good faith," said Dayrit. But after talking last week to Style, Smith called Dayrit explaining he'd been tied up with business and legal matters. "If things stand as we originally discussed," says Dayrit, "we'd like to go ahead with it. The message is breast cancer is something we can't afford to hide. With the book, it's always been about raising awareness. " And Smith insists he's recommitted. "We couldn't stop this project if we wanted to. I can't go out to a cocktail party without people asking about it," he says. In all, he says, between 40 and 50 local men and women have posed for the book. He'd like to have another 40 to 50. Smith keeps the model-release forms handy that give him the rights to use the photographs only for the book, he assures. Attached to each completed form are two black-and-white Polaroids taken of the subjects mostly women in their 20s and 30s and some couples that include a chemist, a snake handler, a biker couple, an art-school model and the breast-cancer patient and her daughter. The theme, says Smith, is simple: "We can't hide behind our corporate clothing, our shell. Underneath we're all the same human beings." Smith's pitch for the book is smooth and convincing. He says it could become retail commodity at $20 apiece that reflects Richmond's eclectic makeup. It's likely he'll publish "Richmond Revealed" himself and set up a Web site, too. He's pushed its completion date back for the third time from winter to early spring. Next year, he says, he'll promote a second edition, "The Breast of Virginia," featuring people naked only from the waist up. "A lot of models would be less reluctant to pose topless than naked," he explains. He hasn't yet run the idea past Dayrit at the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation. "Whether people buy a book or not, they'll certainly be made aware," he says. The only thing Smith believes "Richmond Revealed" is missing is celebrity status. There's still time, he says: "It sure would be fun to get a Patricia Cornwell in there to help